Co-operative youth theatre company’s success is spectacular

Christmas is coming, and one of the UK's most successful youth musical theatre groups is getting ready for this year's festive show. Ipswich-based Co-op Juniors Theatre Company is...

Christmas is coming, and one of the UK’s most successful youth musical theatre groups is getting ready for this year’s festive show. Ipswich-based Co-op Juniors Theatre Company is taking its production of Ebenezer Scrooge to the stage from 13 December.

This is the ninth year Co-op Juniors has put on a Christmas spectacular at the historic Snape Maltings Concert Hall in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. The co-operative, which has 150 members including performers, their parents and the production crew, rehearses at an East of England Co-operative warehouse in Ipswich, and performs throughout the region.

It has been going for 72 years, and now entertains more than 10,000 people every year. Members of Co-op Juniors also encourage the young talent of tomorrow by teaching dancing classes.

Many performers who first danced with this co-op are now working professionally, including Gary Avis, principal character artist and ballet master at the Royal Ballet, and Royal Ballet artist in residence Liam Scarlett.

Co-op Juniors technical director Alan Ayres explains: “The group started in Ipswich during the Second World War, then performed as the Co-op Juniors at the Spa Pavilion Felixstowe from the early 1950s until 1977 before moving to the Ipswich Regent in 1978.

“They remained at the Regent for 25 years, staging an annual pantomime and musicals ranging from Oliver! and The Sound of Music to Fame and Les Misérables.

“In 2005, the group became a charitable co-operative and the regular cast of 100 moved to the world-famous Snape Maltings Concert Hall to stage their annual Christmas spectacular.”

Recent musicals include an acclaimed production of Billy Elliot, two sell-out runs of Disney’s High School Musical at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge, We Will Rock You at Ipswich Corn Exchange, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Ipswich Regent, and Cats at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.

Inspired by the Dickens novel A Christmas Carol, its new show features familiar characters including Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

The cast of almost 100 are in final rehearsals at the group’s studios at East of England Co-op, where there is a scenery workshop, costume store and a stage area large enough to house the gigantic set for rehearsals.

Musical director Nigel Virley, who has written the script, says: “We added our unique blend of song and dance numbers to the traditional Dickens tale. It’s many people’s favourite Christmas story, with strong characters and Scrooge’s journey from miser to become the life and soul of the party.”

The group has earned a reputation for its staging, special effects and colourful costumes. “There are moments of real stage magic,” says Alan Ayres. “We have a four metre tall Christmas tree which transforms into a gigantic grandfather clock in Scrooge’s bedroom, and the appearance of the ghosts has to be seen to be believed.”

Mr Ayres added that Co-op Juniors could not do what they do without financial and practical support from East of England, and help from the parents who volunteer their time and their skills.

Christmas Spectacular! is at Snape Maltings Concert Hall for 12 performances from 13 to 22 December. For performance times and a preview video, visit the Co-op Juniors website.

For tickets, call the box office on 01728 687110 or book online.

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